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Giants’ rookie report card: Assessing first-year players at the halfway point

How is the 2022 New York Giants draft class performing?

Chicago Bears v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The New York Giants 2022 rookie class positively influenced the team’s success through the first eight weeks of the season. The Giants are 6-2, heading into their bye week with two home games against the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions approaching.

The inaugural draft for general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll resulted in 11 draft picks and several undrafted free agents, most of whom are on the practice squad. UDFA edge defender Tomon Fox earns a spot on the list with 146 defensive snaps to his name so far this season.

Possessing two top-10 selections is rare, and it was the first time in Giants' history, thanks to the 2021 draft trade with the Chicago Bears. The Giants finished 4-13, the Bears 6-11, and New York benefitted with the fifth and seventh picks.

New York selecting edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal were applauded moves that addressed liabilities that have persisted on the Giants roster for quite some time. However, many questioned the selections on days two and three of the draft.

If we’ve learned anything from Schoen’s process, it’s that the Giants don’t only have a type of player but a type of person in mind. Schoen and Daboll preach ‘Smart, Tough, and Dependable.’

The Giants’ 2022 draft class is snake-bitten by injuries that did not plague the specific players in college, but it’s easy to see the intelligence and toughness of many of the Giants' draft picks.

As for dependability, there’s variance with injuries, and the injuries suffered by this Giants class are unpredictable; Tis football.

The assessment will be how the players have performed relative to their draft position and the upside they possess.

Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, Round 1, No. 5 overall

Kayvon Thibodeaux has produced multiple pressures in every game other than his first game against the Dallas Cowboys. Thibodeaux was put behind the proverbial eight-ball after taking a shot to the knee against Cincinnati in the preseason. The former Oregon Duck missed the first two weeks of the season with an MCL sprain.

Since returning to the lineup, it’s easy to see the traits. Thibodeaux’s explosiveness off the ball challenges offensive tackles up the arc. His ability to win high-side with a well-timed rip move has been his best asset; he also is stringing moves together to enhance that asset:

Thibodeaux clubs the outside arm, dips the inside one and turns the corner with the rip landed. It’s great to see him so developed at the young age of 21. What makes him even more exciting is there’s still room for growth as a pass rusher.

Thibodeaux hasn't shown much of an inside counter game. He does so well to win up the arc that the development of an inside counter would strike fear in tackles. Against some opponents, it’s difficult to employ inside counter moves because the defender loses contain, so it’s plausible that we may see it out of the bye against more immobile quarterbacks (Davis Mills, Jared Goff?).

I’m pleased with the 17 pressures and the game-sealing strip-sack that Thibodeaux caused against Baltimore.

There’s a ton of potential for Thibodeaux when he rushes the passer, but his football intelligence - which was perceivable while playing at Oregon - is something that has carried into the NFL. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale praised Thibodeaux for his intellect on the field.

He’s also been an adequate run defender. The Giants' defense struggles against power/gap concepts to the outside, and Thibodeaux is not perfect on the edge, but he is physical enough to set and maintain his discipline. At times, he attempts to undercut blocks and will position himself disadvantageously in an attempt to make a play (at least it appears that way). Still, while there is room for improvement I have no concerns about his ability to defend the run.

I also appreciate his versatility as a SAM backer in Martindale’s system. Thibodeaux has dropped into coverage 29 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Another ridiculous concern was that Thibodeaux took plays off - it certainly doesn’t appear that way through eight games.

The guy injured his ankle in Week 1 of the NCAA season, and he returned to football in Week 4 after widely being discussed as a top-5 pick - that doesn’t sound like someone who takes plays off to me.

Overall, I am pleased with Thibodeaux and what he brings to Wink Martindale’s defense. Sure, I’d like more sacks, but he’s harassing quarterbacks, knocking passes down at the line of scrimmage, and forcing opposing offenses to scheme help toward his side. He didn’t have his best game against Seattle:

But the ceiling is very high, and there’s still room for growth. There’s a lot to be excited about with this player.

Assessment: Lived up to the hype, immense upside

OT Evan Neal, Round 1, No. 7 overall

The Giants desperately needed to upgrade their offensive line after the 2021 season. Schoen invested in the interior throughout free agency, bringing in veterans like Mark Glowinski, Jon Feliciano, Max Garcia, and Jamil Douglas, but the selection of Neal was the cherry on top of the reformed unit.

Neal’s training camp started off rocky, as reports about him losing (mostly one-on-one battles) started circulating in the media. Unfortunately, Neal struggled when the season started as well.

The balance issues he showed at Alabama carried over; far too often, Neal’s chest is in front of his feet, leading to him leaning into contact. Neal found himself on the ground too often, but he was still a good run blocker whenever he could square defenders up and drive through them. The power is there, but employing the proper technique needs assistance.

Here are some clips from run-blocking plays throughout the season:

The 22-year-old, 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal combines a unique frame with good athletic ability. He just needs to play within the framework of his body more consistently, keep his feet underneath himself, and have those feet, hands, and eyes all working in unison, which also applies to pass protection.

Some of the issues run blocking also crop up in pass protection. Neal was exploited by Dallas, where he surrendered three sacks and five pressures. On the season, in 236 pass-blocking snaps, he’s surrendered 16 pressures and has two penalties.

The Cowboys' ability to generate pressure with four rushers forced the Giants to look in the mirror. New York took 13, 17, and 22 true pass sets in the first three weeks of the season. In weeks four through seven, they took 28 total - 12 of them against Baltimore in a successful come-from-behind victory.

New York changed its offense to maximize Daniel Jones’ greatest asset - his athletic ability. The play-action bootleg game forced defenders to respect Jones, which allowed Saquon Barkley to have fewer defenders to worry about at the line of scrimmage. New York also used RPOs and other creative option methods to move the football, but the Giants weren’t consistently throwing the football in a traditional manner.

The success of the play-action bootleg game was one reason for the deviation to a more unconventional passing attack, but the lack of reliability of the offensive line was the primary impetus for the switch. Neal struggled early in the season, and the offensive attack alleviated pressure on the rookie tackle and the struggling interior. Here are some plays from the Tennessee and Carolina victories:

Neal’s pass protection improved significantly against Baltimore, and he looked solid in the 19 snaps he played against Jacksonville before suffering the MCL injury.

He’s not a finished product, and there’s certainly development that will ensue in due time. Much like Andrew Thomas, there were some early struggles, but Neal still possesses a high floor; I think he’ll be a solid starter with upside for the Giants throughout his first contract.

Assessment: Early season struggles, flashed promise before injuring MCL

WR Wan’Dale Robinson, Round 2, 43rd overall

Wan’Dale Robinson started turning heads during rookie OTAs, and that positive momentum carried into training camp as videos of Robinson as a vertical threat surfaced. The 5-8, 185-pound receiver is small, but he’s dynamic with the football in his hands, as evidenced below against Jacksonville.

Robinson’s movement skills in and out of breaks, along with his command of the offense, allow him to thrive out of the slot. He suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of Week 1e and did not return to action until the Giants' Week 6 victory over Baltimore. However, Robinson flashed his potential in limited snaps against the Ravens:

Robinson quickly became the second most dangerous weapon on the Giants’ offense, and Seattle took note; the Seahawks did not allow Robinson to break over the middle of the field from the No. 2 WR spot. Robinson was double-teamed multiple times, and he finished the game with just three targets and two catches for 15 yards.

On the season, Robinson has 12 catches on 15 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. He’s not a natural hands catcher, and his catch-radius is limited due to his size, but he’s effective in space with excellent burst, acceleration, and contact balance.

The passing offense of the Giants was stagnant against the Seahawks, as the defense of Seattle shut down the run and the play-action boot game. Daboll and Mike Kafka will adjust and continue to add new wrinkles to an offense that is much improved this season; I’m sure Robinson will be a focal point of those conversations.

Assessment: Just getting his feet wet, the passing game will run through him post-bye

OL Josh Ezeudu, Round 3, 67th overall

Ezeudu’s foundational traits are evident throughout his film. He has several highlight blocks that suggest high potential and should elicit excitement; however, he’s not fully ready to actualize his potential.

Ezeudu possesses excellent grip strength - once he fits his hands inside - great power at the point of attack, and impressive bend in his lower half. I love how effortless his movement skills are in space, and that could prove to be a critical asset on a team that runs the most power/gap in the league.

Ben Bredeson won the starting left guard spot but suffered an injury to his knee against Jacksonville in Week 7. Ezeudu played 125 snaps at left guard in the last two games, and 184 snaps total on offense this season. The results are up and down:

His run blocking is more advanced than his pass blocking at the moment, and his power is displayed when moving forward. However, the pass protection element is still a work in progress. Too often, he allows defenders to get underneath his pads and expose his anchor issues. He’s surrendered three sacks and 12 pressures on 101 pass blocking snaps.

Some of his pass-blocking mistakes occur because of a miscommunication where he expected help to one side, but ultimately was beaten to that side when the help accounted for another defender in the box.

Mental mishaps and his anchor are two aspects of his game that are holding him back. It’s uncertain if Ezeudu will be starting the rest of the season with a healthy Nick Gates back, and Bredeson one week closer to returning.

I think the reps that Ezeudu is playing at the moment are helping him in his development. If he can clean up some of the errors in his game, then the Giants might have found a steal. Offensive linemen with his type of power at the point of attack, foot-quickness, knee bend, and grip strength are not ubiquitous.

Assessment: High upside with highlight plays, errors to clean up

CB Cor’Dale Flott, Round 3, 81st overall

Flott hurt his calf in Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys. He only played on special teams in Week 1, and played 60 defensive snaps in Weeks 2-3. Flott turned 21 years old right before the start of the season, so there’s potential for physical growth.

Despite only being 175 pounds at 6-1, Flott doesn’t shy away from contact. Here are his snaps from Week 2 against Carolina:

Panthers’ wide receiver D.J. Moore beat Flott on two plays at the start of the second half, resulting in a Moore touchdown. He was solid throughout the game other than that drive.

We haven’t seen much of Flott, but I love his temperament, fluidity, and willingness in run support. He has to get stronger, but that should happen as he grows into his body.

Assessment: Has to get healthy, love his attitude

TE Daniel Bellinger, Round 4, 112th overall

Bellinger may be the surprise of the draft class. He was selected out of San Diego State - a run-first offense that targeted Bellinger only 103 times through four seasons. It’s safe to say that Bellinger has underutilized receiving skills that Kafka tapped into.

Before suffering his eye injury at the hand of Devin Lloyd and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7, Bellinger recorded 16 catches on 17 targets for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Here were my thoughts after the one game without Bellinger:

This is hyperbole. The Giants passing attack is set up off their running game that features multiple tight end packages on about 25 percent of their plays. A lot of the successful passing plays for the Giants are set up on play-action bootlegs where the tight ends chip and release to find space.

Backup tight end Chris Myarick is a good blocking tight end, but Tanner Hudson is not. Instead of having two plus blocking tight ends in 12 personnel, the Giants are forced to only go with one in Myarick.

Replacing Bellinger with Hudson is a significant downgrade from a blocking standpoint. It affects the run, which hinders the Giants ability to work their play-action passing attack; which, in turn, removes the primary component of the Giants’ offense.

The freak loss of Bellinger was difficult for the Giants to overcome in Week 8. Bellinger’s intelligence as a route runner, his athletic ability, and his toughness after the catch are missed.

Hopefully, Bellinger can get healthy and find the football field soon. I feel terrible for the kid who was having such a promising season. Once he’s healthy, he’ll find the football field quick because his value was already demonstrated and it surpassed expectations.

Assessment: A steal early on Day 3

DB Dane Belton, Round 4, 114th overall

Belton suffered a broken collarbone in training camp that held him out of preseason and Week 1. He returned in Week 2 to play 46 defensive snaps, and has played 199 on the season.

Belton’s snap share has fluctuated over the weeks:

Car: 46
Dal: 11
Chi: 46
GB: 21
BAL: 42
JAX: 23
Sea: 10

The Giants love to use quarter defense (seven+ DBs), and Belton is the third safety in the game who aligns all over the second and third level. For a player who missed a lot of training camp time, Belton appears to know multiple assignments that span single-high responsibilities, to man coverage over the slot, and box play as a blitzer.

Belton has not made any huge impact plays just yet, but he’s a smart player who does an excellent job baiting quarterbacks, and using timing to undercut routes - just like he did at Iowa:

(Underneath defender who gets hands on football first)

His interceptions are coming, and his role could expand in a crowded DB room out of the bye week. He’s also solid in run support. He could be more consistent as a tackler, but does well to position himself to make a play:

The Giants are receiving enough value from Belton as a fourth-round pick, but the best is yet to come. The former Hawkeye does well to position himself where he needs to be, and the propensity to intercept passes that led to five 2021 picks at Iowa should come soon enough.

Assessment: Rotational & versatile DB, future starter

LB Micah McFadden, Round 5, 146th overall

McFadden and Josh Ezeudu are the only two rookies who haven’t missed a week due to injury. Ezeudu missed some time in training camp, but has dressed for every game.

McFadden has a golden opportunity in front of him. Darrian Beavers, who out-performed him in training camp, was lost to a torn ACL, and the linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart are replacement level players. Can McFadden seize the day?

One of the more intriguing traits about McFadden at Indiana was his ability to pressure the quarterback - we witnessed that against Seattle:

McFadden beat top-10 tackle Charles Cross around the edge, got low, and sacked Geno Smith. This opportunity should expand out of the bye week, but McFadden must develop the rest of his game to play a more consistent role.

McFadden has played 106 defensive snaps this season. He was effectively benched after four snaps against the Packers after blowing coverage assignments on two of them. He didn’t see anything other than special teams until Week 8, and I don’t think it was a coincidence.

New York longs for the days of Carl Banks and Harry Carson, or Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell (it was a good year!). The linebacker play is suspect, and it was terrible against Jacksonville, even though did everything in their power to not maximize runs.

Jaylon Smith - who offers a bit more than Tae Crowder - was horrendous against the Jaguars, but he assumed the MIKE role over Crowder against Seattle. The Giants run fits were better against Seattle, but the linebacker position is far from consistent.

It’s plausible that McFadden can earn more snaps out of the bye, after playing 27 against the Seahawks. The competition on the team isn’t strong, and there’s opportunity to be seized. We may see more McFadden soon enough, but he has to be better in coverage, understand the rules, and be more precise with his alignments.

Assessment: Opportunity to earn more snaps, still learning

DT D.J. Davidson, Round 5, 147th overall

The final three selections for the Giants all tore their ACLs and are done for the season. Davidson played on 43 defensive snaps for the Giants with two tackles and a STOP. He’s massive, and he would have been a nice rotational piece behind Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Nick Williams, and Justin Ellis.

The loss of Davidson opened up opportunity for another UDFA, Ryder Anderson. Anderson played 11 snaps against Baltimore and Jacksonville, but was not called up to the active roster for the game against Seattle. Anderson is much different than Davidson, but does add some juice with good length (6-6, 276 pounds).

Assessment: N/A

OG Marcus McKethan, Round 5, 173rd overall

McKethan tore his ACL at the Blue and White scrimmage in August. McKethan is an example of George Young’s planet theory; there are few men in the world who are 6-7, 340 pounds, with his type of body control and movement skills. Hopefully, he can get healthy and return to the Giants in 2023.

Assessment: N/A

LB Darrian Beavers, Round 6, 182nd overall

If Beavers didn’t tear his ACL against Cincinnati in the preseason, he is probably a starting linebacker on the Giants right now. The trajectory was ascending and he flashed throughout preseason and training camp. Here are some highlights from his game against New England:

Wink Martindale says his defense is “positionless.” Beavers, an edge defender at UCONN who transferred to Cincinnati to play linebacker, fits the mold:

It’s unfortunate that Beavers suffered this ACL injury with such a great opportunity in front of him. Hopefully next season, we’re discussing an epic comeback story.

Assessment: Flashed big time in preseason, promise for next year

EDGE Tomon Fox, UDFA

Fox is a very physical player who is playing valuable snaps at a position the Giants upgraded throughout the last two seasons. Fox did benefit from several injuries at the position. With players like Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, and Oshane Ximines ailing at times, Fox earned snaps at practice and did not disappoint.

This coaching staff loves Fox, and it’s easy to see why. He’s smart, physical, adds some juice as a pass rusher, and does well in run defense. He played 113 snaps in the preseason, with four pressures. He earns a roster spot and has played 146 snaps on defense during the regular season; he has four pressures and a sack with highlight plays against the run:

Also, he is the protector of the sideline:

Fox is a great rotational piece who is playing valuable snaps for the Giants. I am interested to see what his role will be once Ojulari returns from injury with a healthy Elerson Smith and Ximines. The only game that Fox didn’t play a defensive snap was against Dallas in Week 3, when Ximines, Ojulari, and Thibodeaux were all healthy.

Tough decisions will be made once the EDGE group is entirely healthy, but I wouldn’t want to revert Fox to the practice squad. He has earned his stay on the roster through his play, but we’ll have to wait and see what direction the Giants will take as the (if the) health improves.

Assessment: Great find by the Giants after the draft